Tamarin visits the Kruger Park in Africa, falls in love, has her heart broken, but is not defeated.
“The bush is your mistress. She’ll pull you away, make you long for her. But she’ll never be your wife.” This was how our guide, Frank, tried to describe Kruger National Park. By the afternoon of our second day I understood. The connection was profound, and the heartbreak like nothing I’ve ever felt.
Within minutes of entering the park Frank stopped the vehicle so we could visit a bull elephant only a few meters from the road. My heart was pounding, and the joy was overwhelming. It had been forty years since watching Wild Kingdom with my dad and knowing I would one day see these magnificent creatures in real life. The “elly” seemed only minimally curious about us and kept on tearing branches until he finally wandered away. I was amazed at the amount of ground a sauntering elephant can cover in a very short time.
Over the course of six days we explored as many roads, plains, hills and crevices as possible between Kruger National Park and Timbavati Reserve. Our guides never ceased to amaze us in their ability to spot even the most well camouflaged wildlife. During one game drive we were fortunate enough to watch a female leopard stalk prey. She walked so close to the safari vehicle that the guide pulled his feet up so as to not touch her back. The next day she was found resting on a tree branch with her kill draped on an adjacent branch.
Although we saw elephants frequently we were no less fascinated each time. Our guide would pull over and turn the vehicle engine off so we could watch in silence, and we would just stare in complete awe. One herd decided to cross the road after a time of grazing right where we had parked. Within seconds we found ourselves engulfed in ears, trunks and tusks. They were so close we could smell them. One large female turned to look at me and her tusks swung to within inches of our vehicle. She flared her ears for a couple of seconds then proceeded onward. I was thrilled, terrified and speechless. The last elephant passed while nudging a reluctant baby, and then it was quiet. My husband and I went from stunned silence to raucous laughter.
The rhinos were no less sublime. Though not as tolerant of our snooping, we were able to see many rhinos and even a few babies. Hearing a rhino snort and watching a baby run after her mother were experiences of a lifetime.
It took less than a week for the African bush to claim and shatter my heart all at once. I can’t articulate the profound sorrow that consumes me knowing how our African wildlife is exploited and decimated. The wild white rhino is soon to be extinct. Over 1400 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone in 2014. And for what? To feed a market driven by tradition, status symbols and ignorance. It’s incredulous that the leaders of many of the involved countries and the consumers of rhino horns and elephant tusks (to include the USA) simply turn a blind eye to the slaughter that occurs every day.
Rhinos and elephants are gunned down by poachers with automatic machine guns. Sometimes they are still alive when the horns and tusks are cut away. Babies are orphaned and doomed to die. When one bears witness to these fantastic creatures in the wild then sees the horror inflicted upon them, it is only a cruel and heartless human who would not resolve to change their fate.
Photos and Story by Nikela Volunteer Tamarin McCartin
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